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CRASH! Warning. This Information May Prevent Devastating Injury and Expense


12th thoracic-vertebrae
This is not Bill's x-ray, but the crompression fracture looked a lot like this photo.

The month of March has been a challenge since my husband was in a car accident. The 12th thoracic vertebra in his spine was subjected to compression fractures. This bone in the lower portion of the spine broke into five fragments.  Sounds serious!  It was. But it could have been much worse.  Fortunately, the bone fragments were held in place by muscle and tendons without impinging on the spinal cord. 

Why am I telling you this? This personal calamity led to a revelation that could possibly save others from devastating injury. Bill's injury could have been avoided if he had not been reclining in the passenger seat. 

IMG_20160324_143728045_HDRDid you know that reclining in the passenger seat defeats much of the safety mechanisms designed to protect the passenger in an accident? "If your car seat is reclined, a three-point restraint (lap and shoulder seat belt) becomes essentially useless because the shoulder harness moves away from the passenger." 
In addition, it seems that the air bag is timed for an upright passenger but does not protect a reclining passenger due to the additional fraction of a second it takes to fly forward. 

Five-star-crash-ratingFlying off the road, yes, flying off the icy road and hitting a boulder head-on at 50 miles an hour is a potentially serious accident.  In contrast to my husband, my son was protected perfectly by the Subaru Impreza passenger compartment. The driver's seat belt, shoulder belt, and airbags along with the structural design of the car absorbed the impact. The 5-star crash rating is well deserved.

broken windshield from head hitting the glassWhat I have learned since the accident is that reclining in the passenger seat while the car is moving is  dangerous!
Studies have shown "that partially reclined passengers involved in an accident increased their risk of death by 15 percent. Fully reclined passengers increased their risk by 70 percent. It makes both airbags and seat belts less effective, said Dr. Eileen Bulger."

"Dr. Adrian Lund is president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the organization that conducts crash safety tests.What people need to understand is that when we test vehicles for how well they'll protect you in a crash, we are assuming that people are seated upright in the seat, said Lund." Lund says safety tests have never been done with the seat reclined. Having the seat reclined means you're not protected the way the vehicle was designed to protect you, said Lund.

"The automobile industry and auto dealerships advertise reclining seats as an inexpensive luxury accessory for passenger comfort on the road and highway. They tell car buyers that the family can lay back, rest, and even sleep. But for dozens of years there’s been growing evidence that reclining seats kill or cause severe injury such as paralysis in car accidents,” said injury attorney Todd Tracy .

Federal transportation safety officials started worrying about the risks of reclining car seats back in 1988.  There are other ways for automakers to reduce the danger of reclining seats. They could install a warning bell, or make it impossible to put the car in drive unless all the seats are upright. But he says that NHTSA won't require any safety measures, even a label, because of the lobbying power of the car manufacturers.

IMG_20160407_104442747After the crash, I saw the totaled Subaru and took the owner's manual.
 Yes, the owner's manual warns against reclining the seat while the car is moving. It is only two sentences in a thick manual of densely written information.  This is why I had to write this post. Tell everyone you know. NEVER RECLINE in the passenger seat while the car is moving.

Both car insurance and health insurance need to be top priorities. It has been an eye opening experience that a car crash can have such a devastating impact on one's health and financial well being.  Without insurance, the loss of a vehicle and medical bills would have cost us an unbelievable amount of money that would have impacted us for years.

The two ambulance rides alone amounted to $5,000. The first emergency room (nearest the accident) was another $5,000.  The second emergency room visit was another $10,000 and this doesn't even include the 4 days in the hospital. Nor does this account for lost revenue from inability to work. Only because we had insurance will we be able to pick up the pieces. 

My warning is over. The good news is that Bill is expected to have a 98% recovery.  In a few more months we hope that this event will be a fading memory.

Hopefully everyone who reads this can learn from our family experience.

  1. Never recline in the seat while the car is moving.
  2. Buy a car with a 5-star crash rating. It may protect you, friends or family from harm or save your life.
  3. Always buy both car insurance and health insurance. 


Crash test dummy on Subaru Collision Reference Guide

This post was updated on December 11th, 2021.